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Service Before Self

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Story by Senior Airman Edward Hermsen, 153rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. –  Service before self is one of the U.S. Air Force’s core values, which is instilled in us from day one. It guides us to prioritize mission success over personal interests when wearing the uniform and stepping into our roles. Remembering this ethos is expected under the watchful eye of peers and supervisors. But, in those moments when we might not be wearing the uniform, amid everyday challenges and pressure, we truly display our courage and willingness to serve others.

Airman First Class Nathan Johnson, an Aerospace Medical Technician assigned to the 153rd Airlift Wing, had recently completed his technical training at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss. Having received his EMT license less than 24 hours prior, Johnson was on his way home aboard the first leg of his trip to Houston.

“I was sitting in my seat when a PA announcement asked for any medical personnel on board to identify themselves to a flight attendant,” Johnson recounted. 

Responding promptly, A1C Johnson was brought to a passenger who had fallen unconscious and unresponsive during the flight. Alongside Johnson, another fellow passenger answered the call to help—a man who had served as a U.S. Navy firefighter and presently works in the civilian world as an EMT. 

“He and I worked together to assess the patient,” Johnson said. “We made sure she was breathing and went through our EMS run sheet, answering questions like how conscious she was, whether her airway was secured, and if she was bleeding—things like that.”

The emergency occurred with about an hour remaining on the flight. 

While considering landing at the closest airport, they ultimately chose to proceed to Houston, the better option due to the area’s available hospitals. Johnson and the fellow passenger continued working with the patient, taking vitals and administering oxygen, ensuring she was breathing and recovering until they could land the plane in Houston, Texas.

“Once you’ve engaged with a patient from an EMT standpoint, you can’t leave that patient until you can get them to a higher level of care,” Johnson explained. 

“I told the guy with me he could go, and I would stay with the patient because he had family waiting for him outside the airport.” 

Johnson continued with the patient, “We ended up waiting at the gate inside the plane with the patient—myself, the flight attendant, and the pilots. The thing is, I couldn’t leave the patient, and they couldn’t leave the plane until everyone had exited. So, we waited until paramedics could arrive to transfer the patient to a higher level of care.” 

Eventually, firefighters and paramedics arrived on the scene, allowing Johnson to transfer control of his patient to the paramedics properly. However, during these events, Johnson missed his connecting flight to Denver International Airport (DIA).

“I was still on the plane waiting with the patient when they called my name for my flight. Some people told me, technically, I didn’t have to wait. But I did.”

Johnson continued, “The way I see it is if I were a sick passenger, I would want anyone who could help to do whatever they could—even if it’s the bare minimum of help they could provide. That was my thought on it. If I could do anything to help and step in, I should do that to the best of my ability.”

Fortunately, Johnson only had to wait a few more hours to catch another flight from Houston Airport, Texas, to DIA, allowing him to continue his journey back to Wyoming and reunite with his family after a long several months away from them. 

The actions of A1C Johnson truly exemplify what it means to prioritize service before self. It’s not only the fact that Johnson quickly and without hesitation answered the call for help but also his unwavering commitment to waiting by the passenger’s side until paramedics arrived, even at the cost of missing his connecting flight. This Airman is a real-life example of what living out the Air Force core values indeed looks like.